Silence had followed the princess’ exit, the air heavy with embarrassment, both hers and his, leaving Lotor to sigh, his eyes staring sightlessly at the wall. He was vaguely aware of Traad in the doorway, the Drule having turned awkward as he witnessed Allura’s parting words to his king. He didn’t ask questions though, a fact Lotor was grateful for, the King in no mood to explain the encounter.
Lotor stood with his back ramrod stiff, hands clasped in place behind him. So still was he, that an outside observer would liken him to be a statue, unfeeling stone that betrayed no emotions. But inside he was a mess, Lotor wishing things could have gone differently between him and the princess. She hadn’t been able to hide her hurt at his words, every emotion playing in her expressions, the girl’s eyes reminding him of a wounded animal.
How much worse would that hurt have been if Lotor hadn’t tried to gentle his words, hadn’t tried to let her down easily. He wondered if Allura hated him now, and found he could not blame her if she did. Indeed it might make things easier for their kingdoms if the girl did hate him, for there would be no more awkward confessions and impassioned pleas for his attention.
And yet, he found himself mourning his loss of opportunity with Allura, Lotor knowing he was heavily attracted to the girl. She had awakened something inside him, some long buried emotion that rebelled against his duty. He would not say it was love, it was too soon for that. Too soon and now destroyed, Lotor tamping down these new feelings before they could develop into a more powerful emotion.
He had always put duty first, duty to his people, to his father, to the very spirit of the Drule kingdom. Time and time again he had ignored his own needs, letting duty dictate everything, right down to the woman he would marry. Attraction to another was a dangerous thing, it would leave him wanting for things he could not afford to have. Lotor did not even want to think on how light hearted stolen moments with Allura had made him, the king not wanting to develop a need for such joy in his life.
And she was joy personified, sweet temptation that even now whispered seductively to go after her. Allura’s inexperienced kiss had made him giddy, forcing Lotor’s tightly reined in control to break down and kiss her back. She had almost succeeded in making him lose himself completely, Lotor wanting more of her kisses.
Knowing his back was to Traad, he frowned, Lotor fighting the urge to reach up and finger his lips. It would be a foolish action, and only serve to remind him how affected he had been by the shared experience with Allura. Even just thinking about the kiss was giving her too much power, leaving Lotor to feel angry that she had tested his attraction in such a manner.
~She only serves to torment us both.~ Lotor thought. ~To make me yearn for something that is forever denied those of royal status.~ Lotor knew that was the way of the crown, lords and ladies marrying not for love but for political and financial needs. His own union with Merla was one of political finagling, his father and her parents arranging the marriage. Lotor had thought he had long since come to terms with the fact that he held no love, not even the slightest of affections for his intended bride, nor her for him. But now with one kiss, he was desperately wanting to laugh at the crown’s obligations.
“Sire?” Traad’s voice intruded, Lotor realized he had let out a humorless chuckle.
“It’s nothing.” Lotor told him, and the Drule seemed to accept that, falling silent once more. Lotor knew he had to stop thinking about these things, especially about Allura. He needed to return to the ships, and try to squeeze in some sleep before the new day officially dawned. And yet he knew he was far too restless for that, mind going in complex circles that all led back to the Allura.
~I need to think about something else…~ Lotor thought. ~Need to force myself to focus on the problems
facing my people.~ He tried to think about the dissension among the Drules on board the ships, the racial tension that was mounting as the more human like Drules enjoyed the freedom of visiting Altea. The two breeds of Drules had always had a fragile treaty, bound together only in their combined need for survival at all costs. Now that the bond was fraying faster than ever, talks were of discrimination against one half his people over their forced stay on board the ships.
They didn’t understand the need to slowly introduce the less savory elements of the kingdom to the humans, thinking their king was favoring his kind over theirs. Restless and upset, already there had been a few skirmishes between the peasant class, rumors abounding that such behavior was urged on by the nobles. Lotor’s men were busy trying to keep the peace on board the ships, and for now that quelled some of the impending violence.
Lotor knew he couldn’t keep the lizard men hidden away from the humans forever, but the king was stumbling on how to introduce them into every day life on Arus. ~Perhaps….we should start with the children.~ Lotor thought, in a sudden surge of inspiration. ~They may not all fit the Arusian’s idea of beauty, but surely the little ones would not be seen as a threat…~
Though still he had his doubts, remembering some of what he learned about Arus’ history with the ugly and deformed. The humans feared that which was too different from them, holding antiquated ideas about how to deal with what they considered ugly blights on society. He’d have to double the guard to make sure no harm came to any of the visiting children.
~Yes…~ At last he moved, nodding his head to himself. ~The children may be the key. They’ll…~ A high, shrill scream suddenly interrupted his thoughts, Lotor losing the gist of it to turn startled. Traad, ever the ready warrior, was already reaching for his sword, his expression betraying none of what he was feeling. Lotor wished he could be so impervious to the scream that shattered the quiet of Pelphine temple, but the female’s terror sounded again, the king recognizing the voice.
“Allura!” He didn’t know what could have frightened her so, Lotor thinking there was no dangers inside the temple. But he didn’t think she was the type of girl to scream for no reason, and Lotor realized he had already moved to run in the direction of her cries when Traad stepped in front of him.
“Wait here, your highness.” The shorter Drule advised, and Lotor glared at him. “It might be dangerous.”
“I am well used to danger.” Lotor said, placing a hand on his sword’s pommel as a reminder. “And I am not without my own defenses.” A half scream was heard, Lotor growing more agitated, knowing they were wasting time.
“Traad, move!” Lotor narrowed his eyes at the Lord. “That is an order!” Traad seemed to sag in defeat, sighing with the movement. But he nodded his head, and turned to run out the room, Lotor close on his heels. The Drule seemed to take some comfort that he was in the lead, Lotor knowing Traad would want to take the first blow of whatever danger Allura might have stumbled onto.
As they ran, Lotor spied movement from the humans, altar boys and a still awake priestess hurrying towards the princess’ cries. They seemed bewildered as to what her distress could be, and Lotor wondered how many people Allura had woken up with her screams.
Another shout was heard, this time male in nature, Lotor realizing it was several males that were yelling. He grew even more concerned, wondering what sort of menace they offered Allura, and why she had ceased to voice her panic.
He started to run faster, gaining ground on Traad to the point Lotor passed him. The shorter Drule shouted at him to wait, but Lotor ignored him, bursting through an open doorway, that led into the corridor just before the outside gardens. Shock should have made him stop and stare, Lotor spying several familiar faces standing about, the least of which was Allura in the arms of a Drule.
Even more troubling was the two priests who cowered on the floor, their faces aglow with abject terror. There was a third priest, but he lay face down on the floor, someone’s sword stabbed into him. “No….” Lotor breathed out, horrified to realize that one of the Drules must have been the one to kill the priest. “What have you done?!” He barely registered Merla turning, something like guilty surprise flashing in her eyes. “What have you done?!” Lotor roared again, and was rushing forward.
Allura’s muffled scream sounded again, Lotor spying a claw tipped hand over half her face. It was a face he recognized, the Drule’s name coming to him in a haze of recollection. “Carp! Let her go!” To his surprise and displeasure, the Drule known as Carp actually turned to look to Merla for confirmation. “Damn it, I said let her go!”
“Now Lotor…” Merla’s voice purred out from behind him, but it was not without an inflection of nervousness to it. “I don’t think that is wise. The princess is upset, practically hysterical.”
“It’s no wonder she would be.” Traad commented. “She’s just witnessed a murder.”
“Murder is such a….subjective word.” Merla said, Lotor whirling around to look at her. It was then that he realized two things. The altar boys and priestess had arrived, and were gaping at the scene, and two, the Drules with Merla had moved to surround them all.
“What would you call it then?” Lotor demanded, not yet having drawn his sword. Traad inched closer to him, the Drule ready to protect his liege.
“It was a simple act of defense.” Merla explained. “The human attacked Carp, no doubt under the mistaken impression that he was hurting the princess. It is regrettable but Carp reacted on instinct, ending the man’s life.”
“What is Carp doing here in the first place!?” Lotor demanded, watching Merla’s face carefully. She gave him half lidded eyes, an attempt to cover what she was feeling. “Why are you all off the ships?!”
“It’s not fair of you to keep us locked onboard any longer!” A new voice shouted, Lotor recognizing it’s owner as Yurak. The Drule was the appointed spokesman of the lizard half breeds, and his milky white eyes seemed to gleam with an angry fire.
The gathered humans took note of this, and Lotor could hear them murmuring various things, not understanding one word of the Drule’s language. “Monsters!” They cried. “Abominations! Demons!”
Lotor felt with each damning word, all hope of friendship between the humans and the Drules faded just a little more. “Yurak…you know why I asked you all to remain onboard the ships. It’s simply not…”
“Simply not time, or so you say.” Yurak interjected impatiently. “But how much longer were we expected to wait?! While you and your like lounge about in luxury, enjoying the human’s hospitality!”
“So you what?!” Lotor demanded, fingers tensing over the hilt of his sword. “Decided to force the issue?!”
“Lady Merla, what were you doing with them?” It was a good question Traad asked, Lotor staring at his bride. She was as cool as ice, calm and without guilt.
“I was merely trying to persuade them to go back to the ship when the princess stumbled upon us and began screaming.” She examined her nails. “Such a troublesome girl she is…” Lotor couldn’t argue against that, sighing. “It’s an unfortunate event that happened tonight.”
” Unfortunate? Hmph. That is an understatement. Carp, Yurak! Do you realize you have undermined everything I have tried to do, perhaps even ruined any chance we had of existing peacefully with these people?!” Lotor asked angrily. There was no guilt or remorse on their faces, and Carp continued to hold onto Allura, who was squirming in his grasp.
“We’ll just have to fix this problem.” Merla said a tad too brightly for Lotor’s liking.
“Fix it how?!” Lotor demanded. “A man is dead! And these people are traumatized!”
“We’ll fix it the way we always do.” Merla smirked, walking towards one of the priests kneeling on the floor. Lotor was wary, unsure of what she was about to do. She reached out towards the priest’s hands, drawing him up off the floor.
“I doubt even pretending to be Gods can cause them to overlook this one…” Traad began, having noted the way the man flinched back at Merla’s touch. The priest was whimpering, fighting when Merla drew him into her embrace, Lotor confused as to what she was doing. That confusion ended when she suddenly reached up, and snapped his neck.
“NO!” Human and Drule both cried out as one, the dead priest dropping down at Merla’s feet.
“Merla!” Lotor was growling, nearly incoherent with rage. Allura had stopped squirming, had ceased making those distressed sounds, her blue eyes wide with shock. “What do you think you are doing?!”
“Eliminating a problem.” The Drule female smiled, voice dripping with satisfaction.
“You can’t mean to kill them all!” Traad gasped, and Lotor heard the sound of the Drule drawing his sword, the lazon humming in the air.
“Merla, this is insane. We can’t cover violence with more violence!” Lotor was aghast, thinking his intended bride to be insane.
“They’re witnesses Lotor. And witnesses need to be disposed of. All of them.” Merla said, and looked straight at Allura.
“No…” His blood ran cold, and before he knew it, he was drawing his own sword as well.
“Ah ah ah! I wouldn’t if I was you!” Carp taunted, dropping his hand from Allura’s mouth to her throat.
“Lotor!” She cried out, that one word conveying all her fear and confusion.
He didn’t know the words to reassure her, instead looking sorrowfully at her. But his voice was angry, the king snarling as he addressed the room. “And you intend to go against your king’s desire?!”
“What’s the matter Lotor? Is your lust for the girl making you fool hearted?” demanded Merla. She made a tsking sound, gesturing. “The longer we delay things, the sooner more humans will arrive. It’s fine with me if you want more to kill…”
“No! No more killing!”
“It’s far too late for that.” Merla said. “This can only be ended in bloodshed…”
“If any more blood is spilled, it will be yours and Carp’s!” Lotor threatened, and Merla laughed.
“Oh my, you’re so angry. Is that any way to talk to your bride?”
“Bride no more. Our engagement is ended!” Lotor told her. She narrowed her eyes at him, hissing.
“You don’t get to decide that Lotor!”
“Oh yes I do. My word is law….” Though at the moment with rebellious Drules surrounding him, he didn’t feel very obeyed.
“Haven’t you figured it out yet Lotor?” Merla asked, sounding happy. “You’re don’t have many allies here. There’s only you, Traad, and a bunch of helpless humans. It’s best you go along with what I want.”
“Never?” She echoed, with a lift of a pink eyebrow. She didn’t step back when Lotor moved towards her, merely grinning as she pointed at him. “Stay right where you are Lotor. You too Traad. Unless you want Carp to snap the princess’ neck now instead of later.”
“Merla, you bitch!” Lotor swore, and she laughed.
“Mind your language in front of a lady, Lotor!”
“You’re no lady.” Lotor pointed out, and this time she glared, angry at him.
“I’m more lady than you’ll ever handle!” Merla shot back, then gestured at Lotor and Traad. “Take them!”
“My liege!” Traad’s voice was urgent, the man seeking permission to act. “We must fight!”
“No! They’ll kill Allura if we do…”
“Your safety comes first.” Traad insisted, but Lotor refused to give him the order he so desperately wanted.
“Stand down Traad.” Lotor commanded, hearing the man sigh. Merla was smiling during this exchange, and now Lotor met her eyes, glaring. “You haven’t won.”
“OH? Funny, from where I stand, I hold all the cards.”
Several Drules approached Lotor and Traad, their weapons drawn. The cornered king and his body guard had yet to throw down their weapons, watching their opponents carefully. The humans had been gathered into one spot, and they clung to each other for comfort, some openly crying as they watched the drama unfold before their eyes.
“Don’t fight them Lotor.” Merla’s reminder came. “You’re still needed after all.”
“You’re not going to get away with this.” A furious Lotor said, even as her laughter mocked him. “You’re….”
“What in blazes is going on here?!” A new voice boomed out. The Drules approaching Lotor actually started to turn, the king spying High Priest Fordham. The man was still clad in his night shirt, a sleeping cap on his head. His anger faded away as he got a good look at the Drules, the frightened humans speaking urgently to the priest who began crossing himself.
His arrival happened in an instant, as did what followed, Traad suddenly lunging forward to drive his blade into the back of one of the nearby Drules. Lotor cried out, his voice protesting the Drule’s behavior, even as the second Drule whirled around, blade clashing with Traad’s.
“Stop him!” Merla cried out, and Lotor was suddenly moving. He slammed into Traad, knocking the Drule aside and earning a slash across his shoulder in the process. Lotor’s blood splattered onto the floor, and Traad gaped in horror.
“No more fighting!” Lotor growled, ignoring the pain of his bleeding shoulder. “Not so long as Allura is in danger.”
“You’re only delaying things my liege! She’ll kill her eventually!” Traad pointed out.
“Someone shut him up!” Merla snarled, even as Lotor went silent at Traad’s words.
“My Lord!” A note of pleading in Traad’s voice, even as the Drule he had fought with approached him.
“Stand down Traad.” Lotor said, feeling defeated at the moment.
“Think of your kingdom!” Traad cried out, and then blood poured out his mouth, the Drule having been stabbed straight through the stomach.
“Merciful Heavens!” High Priest Fordham cried out.
“Merla, that is enough! No more killing!” Lotor shouted.
“Then throw down your sword Lotor!” He didn’t hesitate, tossing it onto the floor.
“Don’t kill anyone else…” His hands were being dragged behind his back, his injured shoulder protesting the action. “If you do…we’ll never have peace with the humans…everything we worked for will be destroyed.”
“And what do you propose?!” Merla demanded. “They’ve seen too much. They’ll talk.”
“They have to be silenced!” added Yurak.
“People will notice if so many vanish, especially the princess and the high priest!” Lotor pointed out, even as manacles were snapped into place on his wrists. “Alfor is a smart man, he’ll figure out what happened, no matter what kind of lie you tell him.” Desperate, he outlined his plan. “But these humans can be made to react to blackmail. If you explain to them their princess’ life is in danger should they speak on what happened tonight….”
“You mean for me to take the princess hostage, don’t you?” Merla asked, seeming to consider the idea. Lotor nodded. “We’ll have to take her on board a ship, a cover story will be needed to explain her disappearance.” She suddenly narrowed her eyes at Lotor. “And of course, if you cause any trouble, I won’t hesitate to kill her.”
“I understand.” Lotor said, holding back a growl. It was too soon to feel relief, too soon to think the worse was over. “So will you do it?”
Merla nodded and gestured with her arm. “Carp, take the king and the princess onboard the ship. Let no one see you. Yurak and I will be explaining things to the humans.”
The Drule that had handcuffed Lotor suddenly gave him a rough push, Lotor taking a reluctant step forward. Carp grumbled, but obeyed Merla’s command, throwing Allura over his shoulder. She vocally protested this, kicking out her legs until the Drule did a hard slap on her bottom.
“Don’t worry Allura…” Lotor said, switching to the human’s language. “I’ve bought us some time…” In the background he could hear Merla and Yurak talking to the humans, their sobbing and gasps of terror heard. He turned his head, and saw the high priest Fordham looking at him, the man’s expression colored with disappointment.